On the surface, it is hard to see exactly why Reading lost this game: we had more shots, a decent possession and pass accuracy (48% and 73% respectively), two goals and five shots from our main striker, and more dribbles and greater aerial dominance than the opponents. What went wrong?
Our defenders, while solid on many occasions, not least against Bradford in the cup, have also been known to have an individual error in them-high profile incidents like Pearce's own goal against Cardiff, Cooper's shocker at Birmingham, and several mistakes from Hector away to Bournemouth back in October, stand out in the memory, and Charlton came into this game knowing that.
All it takes is a cursory look at our league rankings in terms of defensive actions and defensive errors to know that applying pressure to the centre of Reading's defence is the best way to break this team down. In terms of individual errors leading to goals, Reading are fourth worst in the league with eight to their name (out of a recorded 12 errors across the whole season).
When it comes, however, to our individual defensive actions (interceptions, blocks, clearances, etc.), Reading foot the table, with the lowest number of actions in the league. This last number might not be so alarming, because Blackpool top the table and the likes of Norwich, Bournemouth and Middlesborough are down there with us, but I think it is fair to say that Reading have dominated games much less often than these teams, and we really should expect a more active defence from what has been a struggling side this season. Part of the reason for this low return is, I would argue, that Reading's defence struggle to deal with individual skill and drive, and Charlton give us a good example of this.
Watt went wrong?
We were warned about Tony Watt by Valley Talk in their match preview, and despite this warning it seems that Reading were not switched on to the danger he can pose. He had Michael Hector constantly looking over his shoulder, and he consistently beat the young Reading defender for pace and determination, applying the pressure for Hector's handball and then breezing by him to set up Church's goal for the hosts.
In fact, Watt has had more success in taking players on than I think I have seen from a single player all season: he attempted to take players on eight times, winning four of them (including two crucial ones against Hector, with mercifully only one leading to a goal). These eight attempts equate to the efforts of Nick Blackman, Jamie Mackie, Garath McCleary, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Hal Robson-Kanu combined. It took the efforts of five of our most attacking players to even match the intensity of one Charlton player, and Watt should be praised for an excellent display.
This was a successful game plan from Charlton as Reading's defensive frailties, evident from their season long stats, were exploited efficiently.
Out of the Ashes
We can take solace, however, from the quality of some individual performances, particularly in attack. Pogrebnyak should be praised for two clinical finishes, and his all round play was impressive as well. His aerial presence has often been questioned, but he won four headers, joint highest with central defenders Alou Diarra and Alex Pearce. He had more touches than any other Reading player, and had more shots than anyone else on the field. This was a good performance from Pogrebnyak, and his stats come out shining from it (WhoScored.com awarded him there man of the match award, by some distance).
Danny Williams' stats also shine, unfortunately I suppose, given the circumstances. I was critical of the US international on his initial return from injury, and needed him to show more drive in his defensive duties. He has silenced my criticisms since then, and his return to fitness and to form was (tragically) complete yesterday. He made 50 passes yesterday with a completion rate of 94%.
94%. I still can't believe it.
Anyway, along with that he contributed two shots, five interceptions and two clearances. This was an all action performance from Williams, and a statistical stand out as far as I am concerned; so why did he have to get himself sent off!? Oh Danny...
Solid performances from Jordan Obita (five clearances, two tackles and another assist, bringing his season total to a squad-topping six) and a decent showing from McCleary (four key passes, more than any other player on the pitch) round off what good news we can take from this game. The biggest conclusion remains, however, that Steve Clarke's job of sorting out the defence is by no means finished, and he needs to get some individual confidence back-especially for Hector.
Stats taken from Squawka and WhoScored